Sony Ericsson C902 review

By Michell Bak at Unofficial Sony Ericsson Blog

The Sony Ericsson C902 is Sony Ericsson’s latest Cyber-shot branded phone on the market, and with its slightly updated camera software and additional features, it is also the best Cyber-shot phone on the market, although it lacks a xenon flash. While C902 does pack a decent feature set, the most impressive thing about it is undoubtedly its build quality and feel.

Official product pictures of the Sony Ericsson C902

Advantages

  • Quad-band GSM / EDGE / UMTS 2100 / HSDPA 2100
  • Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
  • Extremely well built
  • Nice design and good quality feel
  • Phone software
  • Loud speaker
  • Well-performing camera
  • Good call quality and network reception strength
  • Bundled memory card reader

Disadvantages

  • Only 2100 MHz 3G support
  • Only 2 inch display
  • No GPS
  • No WLAN
  • No xenon flash
  • At times sluggish user interface

I’d have to say that the phone most similar to the C902 is the ageing T650. Both are very well built thin phones that look great and feature a nice camera. In terms of specifications, it’s rather similar to the K850, although there are a few software differences and quite a few hardware differences.

The C902 box is very much alike the K800/K810/K850 ones. Everything is separated in smaller boxes inside. Apart from the phone itself and its battery, also included is a charger, USB cable, a standard stereo headset, leather wrist strap, USB M2 card reader (CCR-70, as shown below), software CD and a the usual user guides, etc. All in all it seems like a rather nice collection of bundled accessories.

Incredibly well built

C902’s display is a relatively small 2 inch TFT display. Its resolution is the usual 240 x 320 pixels, which is more than enough to make the display look very crisp. The display can show up to 262.144 colours. The colours are well saturated, the display is bright and it’s pretty legible in sunlight. Having said so, it is not as good as the one in K850 or W760.
Around the display are eight touch-sensitive camera shortcuts that work very well – more on that later!

Next on the list is the keypad. I’m personally not much of a fan of it. It’s too hard to press, and the tactile feedback isn’t very good. In addition to this, the keys are placed too close to each other, which makes it even harder to use.
The upper keys, soft keys and navigation D-pad generally work a bit better than the alphanumeric keypad, although they’re far from great either.

C902’s dimensions are 108 x 49 x 10.5 millimetres. It is actually a bit long, and it’s even longer when the camera protection has been slid open. Its thin waist line makes up for it, though. C902 tips the scales at 107 grams, which is mainly because of its metal body. The weight in combination with the thin body makes it feel very good in hand.
C902 is available in a few colour variants; Swift Black and Luscious Red. I think my personal favourite would be the Luscious Red one, as the red colours around the front and on the back makes it a bit more interesting to look at.

The back of the C902 is rather clean. Sony Ericsson decided to put a powerful speaker on the bottom back of the phone, and hide the camera with a special cover mechanism. I’m not sure how durable this sliding cover will be, but it seemed to be pretty sturdy, although I only had the phone for about three weeks.

On the left side we’ve got the FastPort connector, and nothing else. This is the connector you use when charging the phone, transferring data, and connect it to a headset or any other wired accessory.
The right side is also pretty clean, although it houses the camera shutter key and zoom/volume keys. The placement of these keys is rather comfy when in camera mode, although it’s not that great when listening to music.

The bottom of the C902 holds a set of microphones (yes, two of them!), and the top of the phone holds nothing.

The battery cover covers most of the back. It can be removed pretty easily, unveiling the metal body of the C902. The cover hides the Memory Stick Micro slot, as well as the SIM card slot and the battery.
The battery is a standard 930 mAh BST-38 (Li-Polymer). Official battery statements are really good – 400 hours (350 hours on 3G networks) of standby time, or 9 (3½ on 3G networks) hours of talk time. My experiences with C902 show that the official figures are about right, so that’s great!

User interface

The most important factor when deciding whether or not a user interface is good is undeniably how easy it is to use and how speedy it is. The A2 software platform used in Sony Ericsson’s mid/high-end feature phones has been significantly updated with newer phones, such as the C702, C902 and W760. The first and early software revisions of this platform had been bashed for not being all that responsive, and generally quite unstable. It seems like most issues have been dealt with, but mainly in all other phones than C902. I noticed several bugs with the C902; one was when I tried transferring a bunch of photos via Bluetooth, and the menus were taking several seconds to open. I tried it out later, though, and it was working just fine – odd. The overall speed with the C902 is unfortunately also a tad slower than in other phones based on the same software platform. It is by no means as bad as it was with the first K850 software revisions, but nonetheless it’s an annoyance factor, and hopefully it can be fixed.

The interface is visually impressive, and can portrait whatever you may desire, although the limited screen size on C902 makes it a little less joyful. The C902 comes preloaded with five themes. You’d think there’d be a bit for everyone, but they’re generally quite dark with the exception of one rather boring theme. Luckily, thousands of high quality themes can be downloaded for free on lots of theme websites, i.e. eSeth.net. You can even create your own theme, if you’re into that.

The menu layout can be altered according to your likings. You’ve got a total of four layouts to choose from – these are; Grid, Rotating, Single icon, and Theme. The first one is the default layout, and is probably also the one most users are accustomed to. The second is a bit more interesting, although it’s also a bit slower in use, because you’ll have to go through a circle of menu icons. The single icon layout is basically a list of the menu icons. This one is also significantly slower in practical use. The last one enables any theme-defined Flash Lite menus, and activates this menu layout.

One of the features I like most about Sony Ericsson’s feature phones is the activity menu. It is unfortunately also one of the features most people tend to forgot about, although it is capable of a lot. The activity menu is basically a pop-menu that allows you to see recent events, such as phone calls, messages, and calendar events, browse and manage running applications, have access to a bunch of user-defined shortcuts as well as your collection of bookmarks.

I’ve commented on the new soft key layout in previous reviews, so I won’t go into much detail about it. It works just fine, and previous owners of older phones won’t have much of a hassle settling with the new layout. After some time, I quickly found it better and faster in general use.

Applications

The C902 comes with two Java applications pre-installed. These are Face Warp and Photo Mate. Face Warp is a rather fun application that some might have tried earlier on, as it’s been pre-installed on a few other Sony Ericsson phones. The name of the application basically speaks for itself – you take a picture of someone (with or without the application) and you can apply several warping filters. Photo Mate is a perfect application for newcomers. It basically teaches you about using the camera in your phone, and shows what it’s capable of doing with before and after shots. The application includes a total of nine “lessons”, although you’ll have to download some of them from your phone if you want to make any use of them.

The file manager is just absolutely brilliant. It sorts the files by type, so your camera shots are in one folder, your pictures in one folder, music files in one folder, and so on. The file manager is also tabbed so you can switch between the read source (all, memory card, and phone memory) the displayed content. It works really well. The file manager is capable of performing most standard tasks, such as copying files, marking several files, renaming, moving, create folders, and so on. You can also send files directly from the file manager via Bluetooth, e-mail, MMS and – in some cases – SMS, or make use of the menu links to edit the content (pictures and videos).

The calendar is good for creating detailed appointments and reminders with notes, and searching through your calendar entries. It can display the calendar in a few ways – day, week and month. It automatically makes all Saturdays blue, and Sundays red to separate these from the rest.

It is possible to sync your calendar and various other data via either SyncML or Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync.

Other organizer features include a well-working set of alarms, ability to create tasks and notes (and put notes on the desktop), timer and a stopwatch. It’s also got a memo feature that allows you to store any information you’d like kept secret on your phone.

C902 also comes with a few localization services, including Google Maps. It generally works well, although it’s obvious you’ll need an external GPS to make use of all the menu items.

The Media application holds most of your media on the phone, including photos, music, videos, games and web feeds. We’ll leave you with a few screenshots for now, and talk about it later on in the camera and music parts of the review in a bit.

Camera

C902’s camera sports a resolution of 5 mega pixels. It also features auto focus, and it comes with a special flash on the back, by Sony Ericsson dubbed Photoflash. This kind of LED flash is without comparison the best I have ever seen – it is really powerful, and only requires a short exposure, so you won’t get as blurry photos as you would have got with a normal LED flash. Another thing I like about this flash is that it doesn’t drastically change colours in photos taken in bright daylight, and the flash somehow got fired. Had it been a xenon flash, it would have made the daylight photo look like it was a night photo. That doesn’t happen with the Photoflash LED.

The camera interface in C902 is by many a well-known interface. It works great, and it’s easy to use. You can easily switch modes, or access the settings, while still having the viewfinder in the background. There is ‘a but’, though. The interface is generally somewhat sluggish, which makes it no different from the overall interface speed experience. Hopefully this can and will be fixed in future software updates, as it’s just plain annoying to wait 2-3 seconds for menus to appear when you want to send your photos via Bluetooth, or 3 seconds for the camera to load.

The following camera settings are available, of which most are available in video mode as well.

  • Shoot modeNormal, BestPic, Panorama, Frames
  • ScenesAuto, Twilight landscape, Landscape, Portrait, Beach/Snow, Sports, Document
  • Picture size5 MP, 3 MP, 1 MP, VGA
  • FocusAuto, Face detection, Macro, Infinite
  • FlashAuto, Off
  • Self-timerOff, On
  • Metering modeNormal, Spot
  • White balanceAuto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent
  • EffectsOff, Black & white, Negative, Sepia, Solarize
  • Picture qualityFine, Normal
  • BestPicFast, Slow
  • ReviewOn, Off
  • StabilizerOn, Off
  • Add positionOn, Off
  • Save toMem. Card, Phone mem
  • Auto rotateOn, Off
  • Shutter soundSound 1, Sound 2, Sound 3, Sound 4, Off
  • VibrationOn, Off
  • Reset settings

In addition to these menu settings are also eight shortcuts around the display for switching between modes (camera, video recorder, and preview), focus settings, shoot mode settings, scenes settings, self-timer and flash settings. These are generally very responsive, and their placement makes them easy to use.

Now, let’s have a look at some of the best photo samples I managed to get out of the C902.

In terms of details, most people should be pleased with the C902, especially if the conditions are good. If the conditions aren’t good, and the lighting is bad, you will without doubt be disappointed with the C902. Although the flash is better than regular LED flashes, it simply cannot match a proper flash when it comes to freezing a photo.
As you’ll notice in the samples, there’s not really anything wrong with the details, it’s simply a matter of software.

And when it comes to software, C902 falls to the ground. The camera software is simply not good enough, and it’s really not good when it comes to dealing with light and in some cases also colours. Photos often come out over-exposed and with faded colours. I have also noticed software issues with the shutter speed, as well as the post-processing, which can make photos look worse than they did before. The noise reduction part of the software is not great either.

Having said so, the software is still better than the one in K850, and C902’s photos are most commonly a tad better than the ones from K850 in good lighting conditions. In bad lighting conditions, K850 will win solely because of its xenon flash.

Videos are recorded in MP4 format (H.263 codec) in QVGA resolution, 320 x 240 pixels. C902 records at a video bitrate of approximately 450 Kbps, which is a rather high bitrate for this resolution. The framerate is officially said to be 30 frames per second – we measured 28-29 frames per second, so that’s accepted. You can play a video sample below, if you’ve got QuickTime installed. If not, it can be downloaded here by right clicking and saving the file.

Your snaps and videos can be viewed in the Media application by either changing from camera/video mode to view mode, or by accessing it from the main menu. In here you can browse all the content, pass it on to friends and family, add tags, zoom in on photos, view photos on a map, if they’re geo-tagged (triangulation method only), edit photos and videos, apply the PhotoFix corrections, or view your photos in a slideshow.

Music

The music player in C902 is basically the Walkman 3 player without the branding and a few gimmick features, such as SensMe and Shake Control.

C902 supports decoding of audio codecs such as MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, RealAudio 8, and several WMA versions. Most needs will be covered, although some will be left with no support for their favourite codec.

The user interface is similar to the Walkman one, which means it is slick, quick, and easy to use. You’ve got a few settings to mess around with, including equalizers; play modes, stereo widening, and auto rotate settings.

I don’t think the majority of potential buyers would have any problems with using the C902 as their main music player. I’m sure it could replace lots of stand-alone players, as it offers a decent sound quality (with a nice set of earphones!). If you want to use it as your primary music player, you should probably look to get a better set of earphones and possibly also a larger memory card.

The built-in FM radio is another great feature of the C902. Graphically, it’s not as impressive as the one in the latest Walkman phones, but the difference shouldn’t mean that much to you. You can use the radio whenever the phone is connected to a headset or any other accessory that can act as the radio antenna.
On the C902 you can automatically store up to 20 FM radio frequencies – these are stored with whatever information is set available by the radio stations, with the C902’s built-in RDS support. This means the phone can show the name of the radio station, the name of the song playing, and lots of other info texts, if supported by the stations. RDS will also automatically update the frequency if a better one is available. This all works well.

One of the coolest features about the phone and lots of Sony Ericsson’s latest phones, which is also available when the radio is turned on, is the TrackID service. It basically records a small bit of a song, uploads it to a special server, and after a few seconds, you’ll be redirected to a website with the song information, if the song you recorded was in Gracenote’s huge database. The accuracy of this service is really high, and it’s a very nice free feature, although you might have to let go of a few pennies in data transfer costs if you haven’t got a data plan.

Games

The C902 comes preloaded with three Java games.

Café Solitaire combines no less than twelve solitaire games, including Klondike, Freecell, Spiderette, and Pyramid. To be honest, I wasn’t really excited about this at first, but I then realized that it’s really quite comprehensive, and it’s not bad looking either. I also realized that it’s more than just a cards game; you can actually create your own character, customize it and make it represent yourself. To make it all just a little bit more interesting, you can play the game with friends, win points, and upgrade your café.

Foto Quest Fishing is all about taking spectacular photos underwater photos of all kinds of fish. The game is played at Paradise Island, and you’ll be given your photo assignments by beach-owner Ula, who’ll also be your judge when it comes to the quality of your photos, how many fish you’ve managed to get in the frame, if there are any disturbing objects, etc. It’s actually a cool game, although I would have liked it if it was played in landscape mode, and you could use the actual camera shutter key to snap the photos in the game.

Need for Speed Pro Street is a really nice 3D racing game that makes use of the built-in accelerometer in the C902. This means you can steer the cars either by the d-pad or by moving, tilting and playing around with the phone. This way of gaming is rather nice, and seems intuitive for most, although it takes a minute or two to get the hang of. It can not only be played in portrait mode, also landscape mode, which generally works better for racing games. This also helps a bit on C902’s relatively small display.

Web browser and connections

C902 is a quad-band GSM phone with EDGE support, as well as support for the 2100 MHz UMTS and HSDPA networks. No love for America in this one, it seems. In terms of Bluetooth connectivity, C902 supports Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, which means you’ll get fast data transfers around 140 kilobytes per second. It’s also got support for the A2DP profile, so you can stream music wirelessly in stereo via Bluetooth.
You can connect the phone to your computer via Bluetooth or USB. In file storage mode, you’ll get the fastest connection for file transfers. There’s no infrared connection support in C902.

The web browser is the good Access NetFront, version 3.4. Although it generally performs rather well, we’d still prefer Opera Mini any day. Like Opera Mini, NetFront 3.4 includes a mouse cursor which makes it so much easier to browse websites. There’s also a nice full size overview feature included, so you can pan around the sections of the website you’re visiting.

NetFront 3.4 supports CSS, HTML, xHTML, and light Javascripts. It cannot display any Flash content.

The homepage in NetFront 3.4 is a custom one, created by Sony Ericsson. It provides easy Internet searching (Google), a URL bar, links to your RSS feeds, browsing history and your bookmarks.

If you’re visiting a website that supports RSS feeds, such as this blog, you’ll be notified with a small RSS icon at the top of the browser window. You can then add the RSS feed, if you want to subscribe to it. It’s that simple! If you don’t like to go to the RSS feed menu each time you want to check your feeds for updates, you can place the feeds directly on the standby screen, and set it to automatically update every one hour or whatever time interval you may set. It’s a brilliant solution.

Like many other Sony Ericsson phones, the C902 supports most common e-mail services, including Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, although you’ll have to manually set up everything yourself (either IMAP4 or POP3), if you choose not to make use of Sony Ericsson’s web-based set-up.

Contacts

The C902 has got room for up to 1000 contacts, and 7000 numbers in total. I don’t think I have heard of anyone with more than a thousand contacts in their phonebook. Each contact can be saved with the following info entries;

  • Name
  • Number (Mobile, Mobile (private), Mobile (work), Home, Work, Fax, and Other)
  • E-mail (up to 3 e-mail addresses)
  • Web address
  • Picture
  • Contact-specific ringtone
  • Voice command
  • Work information (Title, Company, Street, City, State, Zip code, and Country)
  • Personal information (Street, City, State, Zip code, and Country)
  • Info (a note)
  • Birthday (can be added to the calendar)

In my opinion, that should be more than enough for most. All of this can be synced with your computer, or sent wirelessly to another phone via Bluetooth or alike. You can of course also create your own business card with your contact details, and send this to fellow workers or whoever you may want to send it to. Again, this can be done via Bluetooth, e-mail, MMS or SMS.

C902 offers contact backups, so you won’t have to worry if you ever lose your contacts, one way or another. It is possible to set up a set of nine speed dials, and of course also contact groups, if you’re looking to send a message to all your buddies at work or your entire family at once.

Messaging

You can send and receive both MMS and SMS text messages on the C902. The phone is also capable of handling your voice calls and messages for you, although I haven’t tried this.

Both the MMS and SMS message editors are simply ingenious. The T9 dictionary – and the use of it – is also miles ahead of any other solutions on the market, period! With support for EMS, you can also add picture smilies, sound effects, animations, and small black/white pictures in your SMS messages. If you’ve set up a set of templates, or want to use one of the default ones, you can also quickly add one or several of these without ever leaving the editor. You can also add a large variety of special symbols; make use of copy/pasting; change writings options, such as the writing language, dictionary, word predictions and word suggestions. If the word you’re trying to write is not in the dictionary, you can of course add it to the dictionary, and you’ll never have to think about it again.

Calls

Calls can be made by either dialling a contact from the excellent built-in phonebook, or by dialling the phone number on the standby screen. If you choose to do the latter, the C902 will also automatically search through your list of contacts for any usable information based on the key combination you’ve pressed, as well as act as a completely regular phone. Confused? Let’s do an example.
I’m looking to call someone, whose number happens to be in my phonebook. As I press the following key combination, the C902 will automatically search and filter the entire database of contacts based on my inputs; two (for ‘C’), six (for ‘o’), and six (for ‘n’). So, basically we’ve just entered what could be part of a phone number, but we’ve also just searched for any contacts matching this certain key combination – in this case my test contact entry named “Contact”. It’s bloody clever, and it works a treat, although it may get a bit slow if you’ve got lots and lots of contacts.

You can do regular voice calls as well as video calls on C902. I haven’t tried out the video call part myself, as I simply don’t use it on a daily basis, but the voice call part is very good. Because C902 features two microphones, the audio is of high quality. The earphone call volume is sufficient for me, and I didn’t notice much noise on the line either, which is good.
I haven’t experienced any network reception problems during the review period.

The call manager holds a total of up to 30 calls. In my opinion, the call manager could easily have been enhanced a bit. It would indeed have been nice to check the length of a call, or at least to also include when the call ended.
Calls are separated in four tabs, one for each kind of call, based on whether it was an incoming or outgoing call, and if it was an incoming call, if it was missed. The first tab in line – yet the last to be spoken about – works as the overview-tab.

Conclusion

The C902’s main disadvantages lie in the hardware lacks. There’s no GPS, and there’s no WLAN support. On the camera side of things, there’s no xenon flash either, although in its defence the LED actually does a good job. The last few things would be its somewhat small display, and the lack of support for American 3G networks. Apart from this, we’re talking small software issues, that can be resolved in future updates.

I quite like everything else about the phone. Its build quality and quality feel is just amazing, it supports all European networks, it features speedy Bluetooth transfers, it works very well as a phone, and it’s got a decent camera as well.

I find the price of C902 pretty fitting. It’s lower than the initial price of K850, although it is a slightly better phone

The battery would generally last about four days of normal use. This seems like a nice battery performance, and it should be OK for most.

When it all comes down to it, is it recommendable? It depends. If you’re a heavy texter, then no – you’ll end up hating the keypad. If you’re in search of an advanced camera phone, you might want to wait a few months for C905 instead. This will be a bit pricier, but it’s also a lot better. If you need a camera phone now, C902 should do fine.
If you’re simply looking for a phone capable of doing a bit of everything, I think C902 could be a nice choice, although there would be many other alternatives in that category.

[Review based on firmware revision R3BA035]

Sony Ericsson C902 review
Design 9
Camera 8
Music 7.5
Calls 8
Value 8
- 2D game -
- 3D game 10.9 fps
- Fillrate -
- Polygon -
- PNG score 76 p
- JVM score 1838 p
- Total 1920 p
Very good

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